Following the Red vs. White scrimmage on the last day of the New Jersey Devils development camp, Ondrej Psenicka sat in his locker next to Patrick Elias in deep conversation. As a fellow countryman of Czechia, the 22-year-old would be hard-pressed to find a better hockey mentor.
Development camp was Psenicka’s first taste of the NHL. However, the opportunity was there before. Psenicka explained that the Devils invited him to camp last summer as well. Unfortunately, he fell ill with Mononucleosis (or Mono) and took time to recover from an injury as well.
“It was my first development camp,” Psenicka explained. “I was supposed to come here last year but (I got) mono and also had surgery. So this year, I’m really thankful that I was healthy and I could participate in this game.”
Psenicka had a really strong development camp. He was part of the mini-squad that won Wednesday’s 3on3 round-robin tournament. He later was on the winning team of Friday’s 5on5 scrimmage. The Cornell forward wasn’t just along for the ride, though. Psenicka established himself as a power forward that is difficult to play against. Standing at a massive 6-foot-5, 215 lbs, Psenicka doesn’t allow his size to slow him down although he’s not as fast as a smaller guy such as Seamus Casey. As a result, he’s a hound on the forecheck and knocks his opponents off the puck using his size and speed. In the offensive zone, he uses his size to his strength again, standing at the top of the goaltender crease looking to screen the goaltender or deflect pucks.
Psenicka knows his role and plays it well. However, he knows what he’ll be working on to improve his game even further this season.
“I’m a big player,” Psenicka said. “I’m 6-foot-5, 215 lbs. One of the aspects where I’m strong is net-front and playing in the corners on the boards. I think that’s some of the best things I’m good at, but also I need to improve my skating, just to make sure that I’m competitive with those smaller-scale players.”
At the moment, Psenicka is an unsigned, free-agent forward in the NCAA. He wasn’t drafted when eligible, however, he is now making a name for himself with Cornell University.
Heading into his junior year, Cornell is where Psenicka will continue his development.
“That’s the plan,” Psenicka explained. “I think I still have to improve several things. Some things I have to work on are my skating, stick handling, and shooting. I’ll work on all those skills every day at school, get better, and just prepare for the next season and what’s gonna happen next. I still have a lot of time for that. I want to help Cornell go as far as possible in the playoffs and NCAA.”
The giant forward has a giant personality to pair. Psenicka came off as a humble guy who was excited to be in New Jersey and have the chance to experience what it’s like to live the life of an NHLer. He showed his humble side when explaining he models his game after Buffalo Sabres breakout star, Tage Thompson. Psenicka explained he wants to reach Thompson’s level if he can.
“There are definitely players in the NHL I’m looking up to,” Psenicka explained. “One of them is Tage Thompson. I like the way he’s playing. Obviously, he’s super skilled. For me, it’s just great motivation to work on skating, sticking handling, and shooting just to make sure that I can at least get a little bit closer to his level. That’s my goal. I don’t know if I can do it, but I will just do everything in my power to achieve that.”
Size aside, Psenicka didn’t stand out much in the first few days of training camp. Psenicka won’t wow you with skill and finesse so he didn’t stand out in skills and drills. He admitted it was an adjustment at first, but he got the hang of it pretty quickly. It wasn’t until the game action started that we really began to see the unsigned prospect shine.
“I think the camp went pretty well,” Psenicka said. “At the beginning, it was really, really quite a shock because I didn’t know what I was going into. It was the first experience for me, so the first practice was pretty tough. But I think after, I kind of got used to things. I met all the boys and all the staff. I would say I calmed down a little bit, got used to things, and started to enjoy it even more. So I think over the course of the camp, it went better and better I enjoyed it.”
Meghan Duggan, the Devils’ Director of Player Development, explained that Psenicka is a guy that the Devils have been keeping tabs on for a while. However, this was Duggan’s first up-close look at Psenicka’s game in person. As a standout in last week’s camp, Duggan is looking forward to keeping closer tabs on his development in the 2023-24 season.
“What did you not see in that kid? He’s a 6-foot-5 power forward from Cornell,” Duggan explained. “Ondrej was actually a guy our scouting staff and our head a player performance noticed last year prior to development camp in his (freshman year) at Cornell. We invited him to development camp last year and unfortunately right before he got mono. So he was still on our radar. We had seen him a lot this season. As you guys know, we’ve got coaches and scouts out everywhere watching these guys. He’s a big, strong, power forward. That is a role that every team needs. But, he’s got good skills too. I thought he had a great game today. He stood out to a lot of us and we’ll look forward to continuing to watch them at Cornell this upcoming season.”
The Devils will have to be careful here as Psenicka has the freedom to sign wherever he likes. He’s hard to miss on the ice due to his size and scouts from other clubs are bound to have their attention drawn to him this season if it hasn’t been already. However, Psenicka explained that he and New Jersey had a conversation following development camp and they’d like to see him return in the future and New Jersey could certainly use his size in their system.
“Yeah, I had a conversation with some of the members of the (Devils) staff,” Psenicka explained. “The plan right now is to go back to school and get better every day. They told me they would like to see me in the future. It’s motivation to keep working and hopefully, it will work out and I will be able to come here again in the future.”
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